Should black churches try to be multi-ethnic?

3 02 2012

A recent article in UNITY IN CHRIST MAGAZINE contained an article (Feb 2012)entitled, “Is the Preservation of Cultural Expression in Worship A Legitimate Basis for Homogenous Church Ministry?” The leading question posed by author Art Lucero (also the publication’s editor) is: Should Black Churches in ethnically diverse communities be given a pass to become multiethnic congregations simply because they desire to preserve a black cultural expression of worship? If you would like to read the article you can find it here. I felt I wanted to respond to the article, and include my comment below:

BOB RASMUSSEN RESPONSE:

As a white male, it is very difficult for me to understand the importance that the American black church has held for blacks throughout US history.  But as I try to understand it, I come to respect the viewpoint of my black brothers and sisters. With apologies for generalizing, blacks must accommodate the dominant American culture most of their lives. To get education, to get a job, etc. they must adapt to the ways white-led institutions operate. In light of this, I can begin to appreciate the fact that many blacks desire to preserve their church as an environment where they do not have to work constantly at adapting to other cultures.

At the same time, I am one who has been exposed to the beauty of multi-ethnic (or as I prefer, intercultural) church. I believe that we have the possibility of reflecting the diversity of the barrier-bashing Kingdom of God won at the cross of Christ. One of the most powerful ways we as believers can witness to the divided world in which we live is by dwelling together in unity within the same local church. For blacks to intentionally choose to fellowship with whites is, given our history in America, one of the most powerful witnesses of the gospel possible today.

I believe there are very few white persons, especially males, who have the credibility to speak into this issue unless we clarify that we are speaking in theory as opposed to experience. The typical white experience in America is so far removed from the typical black experience that we cannot liken our feelings or convictions about multi-ethnic church to those of our black brothers and sisters. We move into a multi-ethnic context from a position of historical strength. Our black brothers and sisters do so from a position of historical weakness. (Please forgive me if I am mis-stating this reality)

When my wife and I moved to a new city five years ago, we sought for a church with a multi-ethnic vision. We were delighted to find such a church that had a black pastor with a primarily black congregation (75% I’d say). It has not always been easy to be there, but we have come to appreciate the grace that God has shown to our congregation as we have persistently worked toward unity and understanding. Everyone works to appreciate the way other people do things, and the kind of self-denial that Jesus calls his followers to is necessary week in and week out. One of the greatest gifts I have received is a couple of African-American guys who I now call friends.

So, not all black churches are “getting a pass” or even wanting one.


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